Steel Assassin - WWII: Metal of honor 4.5/5
1. God save London
2. Blitzkrieg demons
3. The iron saint
4. Four stars of hell
7. The wolfpack
8. Normandy angels
9. Red sector A
It’s been a most improbable 3-CD winning streak for veteran Massachusetts metallers Steel Assassin. Revered as a local Boston metal institution in the early to mid-80s, Steel Assassin never hit the jackpot in the heavy metal lottery, but instead faded into obscurity at the end of those glory days. The band’s legacy for more than 2 decades was a handful of rough demos pressed onto a 1997 compilation CD entitled ‘From the vaults’. In 2007, however, Steel Assassin resurfaced with 4 of the 5 original members, plus new powerhouse vocalist John Falzone. Over the last few years, the band have graced the old-school heavy metal faithful with a monster debut CD called ‘War of the eight saints’ on Sentinel Steel Records, an awesome batch of re-recorded old demo tracks called ‘In hellfire forged’, and now a World War II-inspired concept album, ‘WWII: Metal of honor’, self-released at home but issued through High Roller Records in Europe.
The more cynical readers among you will no doubt be skeptical of Steel Assassin’s lyrical motives, given the somewhat “in-fashion” nature of historical battle themes in heavy metal today, as popularized by Sabaton. While you would be forgiven for harboring such concerns, you would also be wrong. Review of the booklet shows vintage photographs of what I believe to be family members and friends of the band who served in the U.S. armed forces, as well as touching tributes from each individual band member to military servicemen and women in general, with specific emphasis on identified family members and friends who served (and some instances paid the ultimate sacrifice) in World War II. From these signs, there can be no question that Steel Assassin wrote these songs from the heart because the subject matter is near and dear to them, not to cash in on some incipient fad championed by younger popular bands in black-and-white camos with mohawks and mirrored shades.
Where Steel Assassin really deserve credit, though, is in the execution of this concept. The lyrics are so well-chosen and well-articulated that they are a compelling read, telling cool stories via nice turns of phrase without getting bogged down in minute details. Musically, these songs are straight-up, classic U.S. power metal a la Attacker, Jag Panzer, Meliah Rage, Metal Church, etc. through and through, with huge melodic twin guitars courtesy of Kevin Curran and Mike Mooney and a searing vocal performance from John Falzone (whose rough-lunged high intensity conjures up favorable comparisons with John Bush and Jioti Parcharidis). There are uptempo songs (“Blitzkrieg demons” and “Guadalcanal”, especially), Maidenish crushers (“God save London”), slow pounders (“Four stars of hell”), and even a beautiful 9-minute epic (“Normandy angels”) that runs the gamut of speeds and emotions. If I had to pick a favorite, though, it just might be “The iron saint”, which begins as a compact 3-minute energetic tune with an amazing chorus (“Spirit of the iron saint/Fly onnnnnnnn”) before a single mournful guitar line morphs into a killer instrumental section that buzzes along triumphantly for almost 4 minutes, conventional song structures be damned.
Somewhat unexpectedly, ‘WWII: Metal of honor’ ends with a cover song. Rather than the seemingly obligatory forays into Judas Priest, Iron Maiden or Dio-era Black Sabbath favored by so many of their peers, Steel Assassin selected the Rush tune “Red sector A”. Initially I wasn’t sold on the idea. To begin with, I’m no big fan of Rush and I couldn’t imagine how this song (from Rush’s synth-dominated period in the 80s) could possibly translate into a Steel Assassin version. But then I heard the Bostonians’ version, and it all made sense. They’ve sped the song up considerably and added a muscular layer of crunchy guitars, while maintaining the instantly recognizable melody lines that made “Red sector A” a commercial hit back in the day. It’s actually a damn cool cover. Plus, when you think about it, the lyrics certainly could be construed in a manner that fits comfortably within the overall World War II concept of the CD. Well-played.
Listen, I know I am an easy mark for this old-school twin-guitar driven classic metal. This style is my bread and butter. It’s in my bones and my blood, so I’m nowhere near objective about it. Even with that disclaimer, though, Steel Assassin have delivered another superb example of the style that exudes skill and professionalism even as it crackles with vigor and energy. We’re at the halfway point of 2013 and if I had to name my favorite U.S. metal CD of the year thus far (I know Steel Assassin had a 2012 release date but I didn’t hear it until 2013, so it counts), I’d be hard-pressed to choose between Steel Assassin’s opus and the awesome Attacker ‘Giants of Canaan’ CD. Fact is, they both rule, so check ‘em both out posthaste, my friends. Support handmade old-fashioned American heavy metal. We’re lucky to have bands like Steel Assassin around today, delivering on the promise they exhibited almost 30 years ago.
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